Euro-vote Stuns Most Leaders, But Germans Make Kohl's Day
Parliament vote deals blows to British and Spanish leaders
BONN — THE scene was the party headquarters of the Christian Democrats, the senior partner in Germany's governing coalition. The occasion was the European Parliament election.
Rapturous applause greeted German Chancellor Helmut Kohl when he appeared to say his thank-yous and give his assessment of Sunday's vote. For a while he just stood at the podium as the party faithful broke into a chant of ``Helmut, Helmut.'' A smug grin turned into a broad smile on his face. ``I am very, very satisfied,'' he said.
Mr. Kohl had good reason to be euphoric. Written off by many just a few months ago as a politician destined for defeat, Kohl's chances now look better than ever that he will become Germany's longest-serving chancellor in the postwar era.
Although the purpose of Sunday's vote was to elect members of the European Parliament - the European Union's mostly ceremonial assembly - German politicians saw it as a test-run for Germany's federal elections in October.
In that case, the Christian Democrats (CDU), along with their Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union, may win by a comfortable margin. Almost 39 percent of voters in the Euro-vote cast ballots for the CDU, compared with about 32 percent for the Social Democrats, the main opposition party.
For the CDU, the Euro-vote capped a stunning reversal of fortune. In recent months the party often lagged far behind the Social Democrats in public opinion polls. Now, with the German economy picking up again, voters are returning to the CDU.
``We're No. 1 again. There can't be any better signal than that,'' Peter Hintze, the Christian Democrats' campaign manager said, speaking about the party's prospects in the October election.
Germany was not the only country in the 12-nation EU in which the domestic implications of the Euro-vote loomed large.
In both Spain and Britain, Sunday's poll was seen by many as a referendum on incumbent governments: Both Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and his British counterpart John Major were dealt serious blows.
In Spain, the opposition conservatives outpolled Mr. Gonzalez's Socialist Party, which has recently been hit by several corruption scandals. In conceding defeat, Gonzalez indicated he might agree to early Spanish parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile in Britain, Sunday's results could spark an effort to unseat Mr. Major as leader of the governing Conservative Party. Many Tory leaders are growing increasingly dissatisfied with Major's leadership, as the party suffers setback after setback at the polls. In the Euro-vote, the Conservatives saw their representation in the 567-member European Parliament drop from 62 to 16 seats, according to projected results.
Elsewhere in Europe, Austrians said yes in a referendum on joining the EU by a margin of almost 2 to 1. French Socialists fared poorly, while support for Italy's new right-wing government remained firm. Far-right parties and those opposed to closer EU integration polled well in Belgium, Denmark, and France.
Back in Germany, perhaps just as significant as the Christian Democrats' resurgence was the failure of the Free Democrats - the junior partner in the Bonn governing coalition - to capture the 5 percent of the vote needed to gain seats in the European Parliament. Germany also requires that a party win 5 percent to gain representation in the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament. If the Free Democrats fail to clear the 5 percent hurdle in October, it could complicate the Christian Democrats' ability to govern after the German elections.
In addition to the Free Democrats, the extreme right-wing Republican Party and the former eastern German Communists, now called the Party of Democratic Socialism, failed to gain enough support for seats in the Euro-parliament. As for the Social Democrats, they will hold a party convention June 22 to try to revive their sagging election hopes.
Now that the most serious political test of the summer is behind him, Kohl indicated that his attention, as well as that of millions of other Germans, will temporarily turn to the month-long World Cup soccer tournament, which begins Friday in Chicago with a game between Germany and Bolivia.
``I hope the German national team enjoys as good a day as we did today,'' Kohl said on election night to thunderous applause.